Walking Tall (Phil Karlson / U.S., 1973):

Paul Bunyan in Sin City, the silent-majority blockbuster. Disgusted with the corruption of sports, Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) comes home to find green pastures dotted with red lights—the saloon now keeps trailers in the parking lot for the courtesans, he stills the loaded dice and gets his torso slashed for his trouble. He responds by carving himself a hickory staff to wield like a portable battering ram, the sheriff's star is ready for him after the gambling-den demolition. "Welcome to the shooting gallery." Trouble runs from madam (Rosemary Murphy) to judge (Douglas Fowley), from moonshine still to human trafficking ring, redneck justice is meted out accordingly while the fretful wife (Elizabeth Hartman) awaits the shotgun blast. Pusser the Wild Bull, out of the wrestling arena and into Tennessee's Gomorrah, Phil Karlson has just the scrupulous truculence to wrangle such beasts. (His own The Phenix City Story is recognized as the main stylistic workhorse, an adjustment to Seventies zooms and grime but also a purposeful debasement—the original is noir exposé while this version is medieval play, the club swings straight into the camera and a swift cut reveals the bloodied hoodlum.) The Old Testament view puts Hartman's domestic schoolmarm in the pastoral picnic and Brenda Benet's salty-soulful harlot in the see-through blouse, Leif Garrett as Brandon deWilde gets a rifle for Christmas to wipe his tears with. Mourning segues into retribution, and there you have the Dixie Colossus with half his mug in a plaster helmet, misty-eyed at the lynch bonfire. "Maybe that's what's required, a kind of madness to clean up the snake pit." Johnny Mathis serenades the folk hero over the closing credits, Charles Bronson picks up the wrath in Yankee country. With Gene Evans, Felton Perry, Noah Beery, Lurene Tuttle, Kenneth Tobey, Bruce Glover, Richard X. Slattery, and Ed Call.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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